Revelation 4

This entry is part 5 of 16 in the series Revelation

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

The Throne in Heaven

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (Rev. 4:1)

Having reviewed the things that have been (Rev. 1) and the things that are (Rev. 2-3), we have now arrived at part three of the book, the things that will be after this. John looked up and saw an open door, the one he had first heard about when he wrote down the letter to the Church in Philadelphia. And just like Paul said would happen to us (1 Thes. 4:16) he heard a loud command, “Come up here!”

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. (Rev. 4:2-3)

In the twinkling of an eye, John was catapulted forward in time to the day we all dream of, the Rapture of the Church. Since he was traveling through time, he had to have what we call an out of body experience, because he wasn’t given a resurrection body, like we will be, and would soon be going back. He called it being in the spirit.

The same thing had happened to Paul about 40 years earlier, when he also was taken to the Throne of God (2 Cor. 12:1-4). Paul wasn’t allowed to tell about it, but its memory provided more than enough motivation for him to withstand the severest forms of persecution and suffering. Unlike Paul, John was told to record everything he saw. The Jasper and Carnelian he saw are the first and last stones on the High Priest’s breastplate and may summarize them all, and the rainbow is a symbol of God’s mercy.

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (Rev. 4:4)

These 24 elders confuse some people, but they shouldn’t. Their appearance gives them away. They have thrones, so they’re rulers. They surround the Throne of God, so they’re assisting Him. They’re seated, a sign of royalty. They’re dressed in white, so they’re righteous. They’re wearing the Greek “stephanos” crown, so they’re victors, overcomers. They’re called Elders, a title long associated with Christianity.  So far we have a pretty strong case for them representing the Church.  But there’s more.

Some try to explain the 24 thrones by saying that they belong to a group of ruling angels. But four Prophets saw the throne of God and recorded their experience. They were Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1 & 10), Daniel (Dan. 7), and John (Rev. 4). In their descriptions, neither Isaiah nor Ezekiel made any mention of the 24 elders indicating that they weren’t present in Old Testament times. Daniel’s vision concerned the End Times and in Dan. 7:9 he mentioned multiple thrones but didn’t add any details as to the number or type of occupants. This is consistent with the fact that the Church was hidden to Old Testament prophets even in visions of the future. Only John made mention of the 24 Elders.  And note that these elders are wearing the crowns of overcomers. The Church won’t receive crowns until the Bema Seat judgment that takes place after the Rapture.

The New Testament contains additional support for the 24 elders representing the Church.  In John 1:12 we’re told that because we believe in Jesus we’ve been given the authority to become children of God.  Romans 8:29 says that when God foreknew we would believe, He predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son so He could be the first of many brothers  In Galatians 4:4-7 we read that since we’re sons of God we’re also heirs, joint heirs with Jesus. Romans 8:16-17 confirms this.

Hebrews 2:7 makes the point that Jesus was temporarily made lower than the angels, becoming a man to save mankind.  Having done so, He was crowned with glory and honor and everything was put under His feet.   Ephes 1:20-22 agrees, saying that when He was resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of majesty, far above every other rule and authority, power and dominion and every title that can be given.  And finally Ephes 2:6-7 says we’ve been seated there too, right beside Him.  Since the 24 elders are missing from every Old Testament view of the Throne of God, they must represent the Church,  seated with the Lord at the right hand of Majesty.

And there’s still more.  Throughout the Bible, there are many “peak-to-peak” prophecies, as Clarence Larkin began calling them over 100 years ago. They take in the first and second comings in a single passage, sometimes in a single sentence. He likened them to mountain peaks seen from a distance, between which is a valley.  The observer sees the two peaks, but the valley between them is hidden from view. So it is with distant prophecies.  The prophet records God’s messages but can’t always determine the span of time that separates them.   One of the best known is Isaiah 9:6-7.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Of this entire prophecy, only the first half of the first sentence has actually been fulfilled. The Child was born and the Son was given. The rest awaits the 2nd Coming, leaving a span of time between the giving of the Son and His assumption of world government.

Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy contains a similar gap between verse 26, where the people of the ruler who will come destroy the city and the sanctuary, and verse 27 where the ruler himself confirms a covenant with Israel.

And the same is true of Isaiah 61:1-3.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

Jesus quoted from this passage at the beginning of His ministry in Nazareth, but stopped at the comma following “the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) The rest of the prophecy describes the Great Tribulation and Kingdom age yet to come.

Each of these prophecies contains a hidden span of time that lasts from the 1st Coming to the 2nd like an otherwise complete puzzle with one piece missing. The Church Age is always the missing piece. These three are but a sample of Larkin’s “peak to peak” prophecies.  Some claim to have found a total of 24 of prophecies like this, each with a gap where the Church fits, the same number as the elders surrounding God’s Throne.

From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. (Rev. 4:5)

Literally, this is the seven-fold Spirit of God, an Old Testament idiom for the Holy Spirit. The sea of glass was characterized on Earth by the bronze laver or wash- basin that stood outside the Holy Place. It symbolizes God’s Word. On Earth, we wash in His Word (Ephesians 5:26). In Heaven, we “stand on it.” (Remember the old hymn “Standing on the Promises”?)

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4:6-8)

These are the four cherubim who guard the throne of God. In the beginning there were five, but their leader betrayed both them and his trust, rebelling against God and causing the introduction of a second will in the universe. We call him by his primary activity, Satan, (it means accuser in Hebrew) but in Ezekiel 28:14 he’s called “the anointed cherub.” The Hebrew from Isaiah 14:12 gives us his name, “Heleyl ben Shachar” the shining one, son of the dawn. When the Bible was translated into Latin in the 4th Century this phrase was rendered as Lucifer, which means light bearer, and early English translations kept the name. He is not the Morning Star, as some modern versions incorrectly state.  That’s a title the Lord Jesus uses only of Himself (Rev. 22:16).

Ezekiel’s vision of God’s Throne showed each cherub with four faces, Isaiah doesn’t describe their faces at all and John gives them each only one, but whether on one or all four, the faces are the same. A lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. They can be likened to the ensigns of the four camps of Israel.

The Four Camps

When the Jews camped in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, they were instructed to set up in 4 sub-camps, one for each point of the compass with the tabernacle in the center. The first was called the Camp of Judah and included Issachar and Zebulon. Members of those 3 tribes would look for the ensign of Judah, a flag with a large lion embroidered on it, to locate their campground.  It was always due east of the tabernacle. The second camp was called Ephraim and included Manasseh and Benjamin and was positioned opposite to the west. Ephraim’s flag depicted the figure of an ox.  The third camp was headed by Reuben and included Simeon and Gad.  Reuben’s flag showed the face of a man.  They were located south of the tabernacle.  The fourth camp was that of Dan with Asher and Naphtali included and was located on the North.  Dan’s flag pictured a large eagle.

Looking down from above God would see the camp of Israel with the tabernacle in the Center and the four sub-camps around it. The large flag waving in the East pictured the Lion, and opposite it was the Ox. To the south was the face of a Man and opposite it was the Eagle. Was God modeling His throne in the Camp of Israel with the four flags representing the four faces of the cherubim?

The Four Gospels

Some also see the four gospels symbolized in the four faces, the Lion for Matthew, the Ox, being a beast of service, for Mark, the Man for Luke and the Eagle, a symbol of royalty, for John.

Matthew was written to the Jews. His purpose was to demonstrate who Jesus was; presenting overwhelming evidence that Jesus was Israel’s long awaited Messiah: The Lion of Judah. The genealogy in Matthew begins with Abraham and runs through King David (Matt 1:1-17). The most frequently used phrase in Matthew’s Gospel is “it was fulfilled.” There are more references to events foretold in Old Testament prophecy and fulfilled in the Life of Jesus in Matthew than in any other gospel account. Partial copies discovered in the caves at Qumran suggest that Matthew may have originally been written in Hebrew. The first miracle, the cleansing of a leper, was highly symbolic for Israel. Leprosy was viewed as a punishment for sin, and cleansing a leper signified taking away the sin of the nation. Matthew’s gospel ends with the resurrection signifying God’s promise that David’s Kingdom would last forever.

Mark’s gospel is actually Peter’s account and was written to the Romans. His purpose was to portray Jesus as the obedient servant of God. Since no one cares about the heritage of a servant there is no genealogy in Mark. The most frequently used phrase in Mark’s Gospel is “straight away” sometimes translated immediately, so Mark is called the snapshot gospel, giving us picture after picture of Jesus in action. The first miracle is the casting out of a demon, demonstrating that the God whom Jesus served was superior to all other gods, a matter of great importance in Rome’s polytheistic society. Mark’s gospel ends with the ascension, signifying that the servant’s job was finished and He was returning home.

Luke’s account portrays Jesus as the Son of Man, a title Jesus often used of Himself, and was written to the Greeks. It presents the human side of Jesus and emphasizes his teaching. Greeks were famous for their storytelling form of oratory, so the most frequent phrase in Luke is “and it came to pass.” Most movies of the life of Jesus rely primarily on Luke’s gospel because of its flowing narrative form. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus all the way back to Adam, the first man (Luke 3:21-38). Since the Greeks, like the Romans, were a polytheistic society, Luke used the casting out of a demon as his first miracle, and ended his gospel with the promise of the Holy Spirit, uniting man with God.

John wrote to the church describing how Jesus felt about peoples’ reaction to His ministry. His gospel is unique, based upon seven miracles, seven “I Am” statements and seven discourses. John pays little attention to chronology, sometimes placing events out of order (like the Temple cleansing in Chapter 2) for their effect in presenting Jesus as the Son of God.  John’s gospel covers only about 21 days out of the Lord’s 3 ½ year ministry. Ten chapters are devoted to one week, and 1/3 of all the verses in John describe one day. His genealogy begins before time and identifies Jesus as the Eternal One Who was with God and Who was God (John 1:1-2). The most frequently used phrase in John is “Verily, verily,” or truly, truly.  His first miracle was changing water into wine, an act of enormous symbolism by which He “revealed His Glory and His disciples put their faith in Him” (John 2:11). John’s Gospel ends with the promise of the 2nd Coming.

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
(Rev. 4:9-11)

Another hint as to the identity of the 24 elders. Reading it always calls to mind the words of the old hymn I sang as a boy, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” particularly the verse that goes “casting down their golden crowns upon the glassy sea.” It’s author, Reginald Heber, was an Anglican clergyman. He was writing about the Church.

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